Four Chinese nationals of Uighur ethnicity held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility have been resettled in Bermuda, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.
The four were among 17 Uighur detainees at the facility set up to hold terror suspects. President Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo facility, raising questions of what will happen to the more than 200 remaining detainees. A political backlash against bringing any of the detainees to the United States has increased the focus on sending them to other countries. A Justice Department statement said the four Uighurs resettled to Bermuda had been cleared for release by the Bush administration. Another review of their case this year cleared them for release, the statement said. Uighurs are a Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far-west China. The Uighurs at Guantanamo Bay were apprehended in Pakistan, the Justice Department said. On Thursday, China urged the United States to hand over all 17 of the ethnic Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay instead of sending them elsewhere. The Chinese statement followed an offer by Palau, a Pacific island nation, to accept the Uighur detainees. China said the men are part of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement — a group the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization — that operates in the Xinjiang region. East Turkestan is another name for Xinjiang.
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The region of 20 million people is largely populated by ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities who have traditionally opposed Beijing’s rule and clamored for greater autonomy. “China urges the U.S. to … stop handing over any terrorist suspects to third countries, and extradite them to China as early as possible. China also opposes any third country taking in these terrorist suspects,” said Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. A senior Obama administration official said the State Department is still working on a final agreement with Palau to settle the 13 remaining Uighur detainees. Issues to be worked out, the official said, include how to transfer the Uighurs to Palau and how much money the United States would give the men for resettlement. The official said the average is $100,000 per person. The United States will not send Uighur detainees cleared for release back to China out of concern that Chinese authorities would torture them. China has said no returned Uighurs would be tortured. Palau said it will take in the ethnic Uighur detainees for humanitarian reasons and because of the “special relationship” between Palau and the United States. Palau, with a population of about 20,000, is about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) southeast of Manila, Philippines, and about 4,600 miles (7,360 kilometers) west of Hawaii. It has received nearly $900 million in U.S. aid since independence in 1994, according to congressional auditors, and depends on Washington for its defense. In 2006, five other Uighur detainees were transferred to Albania, according to the Justice Department, which said it has no reports they took part in any post-resettlement criminal behavior or terrorist activities.
“By helping accomplish the president’s objective of closing Guantanamo, the transfer of these detainees will make America safer,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “We are extremely grateful to the government of Bermuda for its assistance in the successful resettlement of these four detainees, and we commend the leadership they have demonstrated on this important issue.” Since 2002, more than 540 detainees have departed Guantanamo for other countries, including Albania, Algeria, Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belgium, Denmark, Egypt, France, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom and Yemen, the Justice Department said.